Last week when I was dropping my sister off at Calvin College I picked up Shades of White Flight Evangelical Congregations and Urban Departure by Dr. Mark Mulder. Shades of White Flight examines how the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) in Chicago participated and encouraged their members migration from Chicago proper to the suburbs in the 1960s and 1970s.
I grew up in the CRC and have not attended in a number of years primarily because of the stances it has taken against the LGBTQ community. I also have had Mark Mulder as a professor when I attended Calvin College which may affect my reading of this book.
Early on Mulder makes the claim that the CRC is a closed off from society. People in the CRC have two places of social engagement, the church and the private christian, predominately CRC, schools. The CRC has created Cadets (for boys) and Calvinettes (for girls) to “operate as religious counterparts of the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts” (pg 39). Members of the church shopped at businesses owned by other members and only shopped at other locations if there was no other choice. When African Americans began to move into the community it was easy for the church and it’s members to pick up their shops, church, schools, and communities and move them to the suburbs.
In addition to a closed community the CRC’s governmental structure also played a role in the movement to the suburbs. Each church is owned by the members. They have the right to sell the church building if they chose to. In the Englewood and Rosewood neighbourhoods, the focus of the study, every CRC church relocated in the span of a decade to the suburbs. In one instance the church even directed the congregants where to move. This was not stopped by church polity as the churches had every right to do with their building what they wished.
Mulder contrasts this with the Reformed Church of America (RCA) a church indistinguishable from the CRC. The CRC split from the RCA, has the same heritage, same dutch background, same creeds and catechisms. The difference is that the RCA stayed in the Rosewood and Englewood communities 15-20 years longer than the CRC churches because their hierarchical structure encouraged the RCA to stay.
As someone who grew up in the CRC, reading this book made me understand why my upbringing was the way it was. It made me understand why my community was so closed off (even though many CRC members will take offense to this), why my parents spent thousands of dollars a year on private education, and why all of our activities were organized through the church / church community. Why when we moved our new community was also based around our new CRC congregation and christian schools. And it explains today why it irritates my partner, who grew up in a different church environment, when my family’s first response for wedding vendors is to hire someone in our church.
I applaud Mark Mulder for his work in bringing the racist past of the CRC to light. With works like this I hope that churches are able to make a self critique and that change can happen. However, I fear that members of the CRC will take the problems presented in this book and say that that was a congregational issue, not a systemic issue.
At one point Mulder points out how the Synod of the CRC (it’s governing body) understood the systemic issues of racism but it was not able to convey this to it’s members. Members of the CRC have difficulty understanding systemic issues as they place all the responsibility on the individual in their spiritual and daily lives.
I recommend this book for those who grew up in the CRC to help explain racial tensions to their family members. I for one will be using the argument presented to try and show how the CRC is a proponent of racial segregation.